What is it about roaming the globe? Romance, mystery, culture, food, the unexpected? Everyone seems to want to visit sites unknown, however on that same path, many seem to be terrified at the thought of it. For every one person I chat with about the adventures and freedom of traveling, there are three others who balk at the idea of venturing off with a loved one, much less by themselves. Whether you are 20 years old or 80, or anywhere in-between; GO GO GO! Travel to the town next door, travel to a place 8,000 miles away, open your eyes, open your heart. Truly taking your mind and body away from their normal day to day routine, will be your best education.
Gosh, I don't remember the first time I took my first solo trip. The world was a much different place back then. No smart phones, no Trip Advisor, no google translate or Rome2Rio apps. You just packed up your car, and off you went. Mexico, Canada, the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas were always on my mind....Once in my early twenties, London, Paris, New York, Montreal, Costa Rica. Since then countless long drives across 1000's of miles of vast landscapes as well as adventures to distant lands like; Turkey, China, Vietnam, New Zealand, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia. From the sub zero temperatures of Fairbanks, Alaska, to the golden beaches of Spain, or the tropical jungles of the Peruvian Amazon, I have a wealth of incredible stories which have enriched my life; making me a better person, a better mom, a better business owner, a more understanding and empathetic human.
With that said, I have some tips for the would be traveler:
Be like Nike, and "Just do It". It doesn't matter where or when or for how long. Don't stress over the details. If you have the inclination to purchase a ticket or hop in the car, listen to your inner voice and just go with the flow. It will be AMAZING.
Travel does not have to be expensive. I have a short write up which you can find HERE, which goes into great detail about landing into Salt Lake City and spending a week camping in the most incredible red rock canyons you will ever see. All for less than $100. Go with a buddy and spend even less money. The USA has a variety of simply jaw dropping national parks, take advantage of the communities surrounding these stunning locations, camping is one of the best ways to travel and get in touch with your inner peace.
Air travel. Keep your options open. Keep your dates flexible. Sign up for travel alerts on locations which peak your interest, facilitate FaceBook pages set up specifically for travel deals. I have several favorites which I go to and compare between: Momondo, Kiwi, Skyscanner are just a few. Set on going to Paris, but a special pops up for $300 round trip for Marseilles....GO! Don't think, just do it. GoEuro as well as the already mentioned Rome2Rio apps are a superb way to get from point A to point B, regardless of how you would like to get there; train, ride share, air, bus, all good options.
Know your travel personality. Are you a spa person? Does the idea of eating from a street cart make your skin crawl? Have you stayed in a Hostel? Do you need a restaurant and concierge onsite? These questions can help you narrow down your search. Same MO for beaches, mountains, cities or the country. I love Hong Kong, but I am really not a city girl, so when I am on the island, I tend to stay in Stanley, a small community a short trip away. Adore Barcelona, but would rather stay in Sitges, 30 minutes by train and a world of difference.
Do some research before you go, learn local customs and some short sentences to help you assimilate. Hello | Thank You | My name is________ | Good Afternoon | Where is the bathroom | I would like to have ______________ | Can you help me get a taxi to______________. By all means download Google Translate, but it's nice to be able to communicate a few short words without having to pull out your smart phone. In China it is customary when handing an item to another person, or when receiving an item, to use two hands. The USA is set up for tipping in just about every sector and in Australia cars don't stop for pedestrians. Walking across the street in Vietnam is a life changing experience and everybody in Thailand will say "yes", just to be polite.
There are a gazillion bloggers out there who go into great detail on their personal adventures. Find a few you relate to and follow their posts for inspiration as well as itinerary ideas. It's always great having first hand knowledge of a location before you arrive, if nothing else, simply to help relieve the anxiety of EVERYTHING being new and different. The more often you push the envelope of feeling anxious, the easier it will be the next time, and the time after that. Before you know it, nothing will phase you. A great skill for all of life's challenges.
It's ok to get lost. In fact, I encourage it. Just last month I found myself with my son in Lisbon. We wanted to get to a village I had read about, called Sintra. Portuguese is not an easy language, but with a little common sense, we were able to figure out the train schedules, purchase tickets and head out. However, we really had no idea what we were doing. We managed to get to this adorable village, wander through an incredible castle, eat in a lovely restaurant and head back into the city, where we got off on the wrong stop and had no idea how to get back to our hotel. It's all good. We wandered a bit, seeing much more of the city than we would have on the train and ended up being able to take the historic Tram 28, which was an adventure in itself.
In the past I have owned businesses which afforded me long periods of time to travel. Now I travel for work, and literally live out of my luggage. Whether you head out for a week or for 3 months, always bring along an item or two which give you a sense of home. I don't go anywhere without a small pottery cup I made several years ago, by hand, with a lifelong girlfriend. This cup makes me smile. It can carry hot or cold beverages and reminds me always of people and places which I love. Another go to are my cashmere wrap and silk pillow case. No matter the bed conditions or the temperature, both come in handy on airplanes, in caravans, on couches and cool evenings. Stuff one in the other and I have a soft place for my head to lay when there is a random 8 hour layover in a remote airport. Only traveling with a carry on is another suggestion. Having just one piece of luggage makes it that much easier to have last minute plans, or changes of itineraries; to get on a boat or a train, to jump on an opportunity which comes your way unexpectedly.
Be smart, but don't be scared. Bad things do happen to good people, but they are just as likely to happen in your own home town, as they are anywhere else on the planet. Don't be flashy, don't carry all of your money and cards when you go out, purchase some clothing items upon arrival, see what the locals wear. Listen, observe, smile, be polite. Respectful behavior will go much farther than being loud or discourteous. Follow your gut. I had the most incredible experience in a small town on the South Island of New Zealand; after chatting with some local farmers in a pub, I was asked if I wanted to see their sheep farm. Off into their truck I went. A few kilometers down the road we were stopped by the largest heard of sheep I had ever seen. Literally a sea of white fluffy critters who these blokes knew by name. A wow moment for sure. We must have spent 2 hours wandering amongst the sheep as they happily munched on grass and let me scratch behind their ears and giggle in my dream like trance.
Immigration and customs can be intimidating. You don't speak the language, everyone wears a gun, not much, if any, direction is given. Just like your own home country, if you are not trying to bring or take out something which is banned, you won't get in trouble. I have spent hours with the Australian Border Patrol, simply because I forgot to claim a food item. It's ok. Don't get upset. Answer questions, breath, they are simply doing their jobs, and want you to get through as quickly as you do. Detention is not their priority, keeping their citizens safe is. Be sure to fill out forms appropriately and if you don't understand something, ask the flight attendants, they are trained to help you. The lines may be long, especially after a flight you have been sitting on for the past 15 hours, but it will be over soon. Be patient, don't complain, think about the fantastic memories you are getting ready to make. It's not the destination, it's the journey.
Questions? Sure! Send them my way.
Most importantly, don't sweat the small stuff. Have a loose plan. Just wander. Enjoy.
City tours are great and most locations have either free walks or hop on hop off busses, both provide a starting point for your adventure.
Stop and sit at a cafe, pack a picnic and head for the local park, rent a bike to explore even further.